Devastating fire in Railways building kills nine in Kolkata, including four firefighters

Published : March 09, 2021 16:44 IST

Fire brigade personnel outside the multi-storied building belonging to the Indian Railways where a fire broke out on March 8, in Kolkata on March 9. Photo: BIKAS DAS/AP

A devastating fire that broke out in a multi-storied Railways office in Kolkata has left nine people dead. On the evening of March 8, a fire broke out on the 13th floor of the New Koilaghat Building on Strand Road in central Kolkata. Seven bodies were recovered the same evening, and two more were recovered in the early hours of March 9. Among those who lost their lives were four fire-fighters, an Assistant Sub-inspector of Police (ASI), three Railway officials and another person who is yet to be identified. The cause of the fire is yet to be ascertained.

According to reports, the bodies were recovered from two separate lifts in the building. The firefighters and the security personnel may have used the lift in spite of the fire so as not to delay the rescue operation, but they found themselves trapped. Girish Dey, Aniruddha Jana, Gaurav Bej and Biman Purakait have been identified as the firefighters who lost their lives. The Railway officials who died were Partha Sarathi Mondal, Deputy Chief Commercial Manager of Eastern Railways; Sanjay Sahani, security officer; and Sudip Das, senior technician. The policeman who lost his life was Amit Bhowal, ASI, Hare Street Police Station.

Reacting to the deaths, Union Railway Minister Piyush Goyal said on social media: “I salute the bravery of 3 Railway personnel, including RPF Constable Sanjay Sahni, Dy Chief Comm. Mgr. Partha Sarathi Mondal & Sr Technician Sudip Das, along with 5 firefighters & a police ASI, who laid down their lives to stop fire at Eastern Railways Strand road office, Kolkata. Their valour and selflessness has set a shining example for fellow citizens. Deepest condolences to the families of the courageous souls. My thoughts are with them in this hour of grief.”

President Ram Nath Kovind posted on social media: “Pained beyond words by the extremely tragic fire accident at a building in Kolkata. My deep sympathy and condolences for the bereaved families. I wish for speedy recovery of the injured.” The Prime Minister’s office announced an ex gratia of Rs.2 lakh each from the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund for the next of kin of those who have lost their lives and Rs.50,000 to those who were seriously injured.

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who had gone to the site late in the evening of March 8, announced a compensation of Rs.10 lakh for the family of each of the deceased and a job for one member of the family. She also expressed her disappointment at the Railways, saying, “This is a Railways property, but no one from the Railways has come yet. I believe they also have a responsibility. The fire department had even asked for a map of the building, but they got no cooperation from the Railway officials.”

Piyush Goyal subsequently tweeted: “Railway officials including the GM are at the site and are working in coordination with the State Govt for rescue and relief efforts. We are committed to doing everything possible to ensure safety of all concerned…. All possible assistance has been provided by the Railways to the State Govt during this unfortunate fire accident. A high level inquiry consisting of four Principal heads of Railway departments has been ordered to ascertain the cause of the fire.”

Even in a time of tragedy, politics is not far behind in election-bound Bengal. Mamata Banerjee’s strong words against the Railways triggered a fresh war of words between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Trinamool, which are fighting each other in the upcoming Assembly election. Reacting to her statement, Amit Malviya, senior BJP leader who is in charge of West Bengal, said on social media: “Every time there is a tragedy in WB, all that Mamata Banerjee does is shift blame…. She blamed the Left for bridge collapse in 2016 and fire in AMRI. Social media was blamed for Dhulagarh riots and now Railway is being blamed for the fire, in which they have lost their people! In Mar 2010, when she was in opposition, she questioned lack of disaster management protocols, after the Park Street fire. But after 10 years in office, there has been no improvement in track record of fire safety. Once again, negligence of the State has led to loss of lives….”